Today I went on a walk. I went to the Northern edge of the Forest Park and parked my truck at the end of the Wildwood Trail, a thirty mile trail winding through the park. It was a clear, cold, December day in the high twenties and low thirties. I had a pair of shorts on and two fleece overshirts and brought a cup of coffee.
It took a short bout of walking before I began to “slow down”. About a mile or so in I got to a place where the trail doesn’t hug a steep hillside, but instead the ground is more wide on both sides. At this place I felt a difference. Something about this place. I didn’t feel any omens or insights or positive or negative attitudes. I just felt “something” in the are area. I paused many times in that section of trail to simply open myself up. On many walks I’ve asked the Gods to give me insight, trying to allow myself the openness that I experienced many times on walks in the Houston Arboretum. I expressed my desire to the wood that I wanted to learn and grow and that I was open.
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At one point I stopped and tried a Chakra opening visualiztion that I read in a book recently. I've never worked with Chakras and I couldn't tell you the colors or meaning of them now for the life of me. I simply imagined opening locks up my body where the Chakras would be. I imagined being open to the life around me. As I did this I noticed my body chaning in posture, in muscle tautness, in facial expression. When I opened all the imagined locks I felt a lightness. Not really like the lightheadedness one feels when you do not eat enough, but not entirely off the mark. I had been thinking earlier of the meaning of Winter (more later) and I felt very broad now. Where one usually feels their body to the be boundary of their selves, or at times this boundary to shrink to the eyesight (called tunnel vision, occurs alot in high stress conditions) I felt the opposite, that while I could feel my body, it didn't really feel as though the body was the boundary of my Self.
First thought that popped into my mind was that of Astral Projection. In 1995 I had an experience that someone later told me was likely Astral Projection. I was skeptical at the time and, though I identify myself as a witch, I hold a very healthy and stubborn skepticism against such notions, as well as anything to do with crystal energies and the like. Though this notion is changing. Anyway, as this thought entered my mind, it was immediately seized upon by the voice of the cynic within me and the feeling of openness and fuzzy boundary of self went dissipated.
I continued my walk. I had been contemplating Winter before and the bone chilling cold, while not nearly the coldest I’ve been, was enough to get the point across… that Winter is harsh. I imagined that Winter was naturally a time of going inward. The body is assaulted from the outside by the cold that seeks to take the warmth from within the body’s core. Animals hibernate in burrows. The longer nights and cold days make it easy for one to engage in introspection.
As I walked and gazed at trees and moss and rock and sky, I allowed my mind to go where it wanted and to entertain random thoughts. One such thought came from a discussion I had with a bar patron years ago about relgion and spirituality. Before this entered I was thinking of some of the writings that Julia Butterfly Hill had done while in the tree Luna about the nature of love. She contended that the Earth gave us unconditional love, that even though we destroy ecosystems and treat her with disrespect, she still provides us with sustenance. Julia said that living in the tree and meditating on the forest around her deepened her own love for others. I thought of this “touchy feel” hippy nature stuff when the past conversation with a bar patron entered my mind. The memory of him had coupled with my inner cynic and this naysayer was now debating my thoughts on the love of Nature for all her children. What love was there when a person is stranded out in the wilderness and cannot eat? There was sustenance out there, the person just did not know how to survive. We’ve lost touch with the natural world through our modern lives. Well, what about the very real threats to or safety? Such as a kodiac bear? Or trying to live on Antartica? Or an island out in the ocean? To believe that Nature would provide for us is very naive!
I pondered this. Something wasn’t quite right here. The two sides of the debate in my mind were the usual sides. When I was full on environmentalist in Houston, and in my early time in Eugene, these were the sort of feelings that those in the community shared. These were attacked by the very same arguments that my inner cynic was giving me again now. But as I walked through the forest, something didn’t mesh. I wasn’t the one debatint. I was allowing two sides that I had listened to debate within my mind, but had not voiced my own opinion. I told the two side to shut up and explained to them that the entire Cosmos, the All, does indeed love us, just as it loves all of creation. It love ants and people and lions and whales. It loves it all because it all is All. One cannot not love one self without being severely problematic. Would the cosmos suffer from this sort of incompatibility? I think not. In the great expanse of the Cosmos there are areas that are more conducive to our existence than others. We can live in space, but it is much easier to live on Earth. There is nothing odd about this, it is simply following the way. The same is true here on Earth, there are areas that are easier to live in than others. Oregon is easier to live in than Antartica. Not only are there places, but there are ways of living that make things easier or harder for us to live. While Space is very hard to live in, we have the abiltty to go against the grain and live there. Same with areas on the planet. Arizona is not an easy place to live, but now millions of people live there without much thought at all about the natural world around them. We have built our homes and cities, not in balance with the environment and cycles of nature, but in stubborn determination of doing what we want, blindly. When things do not work out, we term Nature as harsh (as I termed Winter earlier in this writing) and menacing.
I remember the real life cyncic asking me if I believed in the Gods and Goddesses. When I told him yes, he was shocked. This is not an uncommon reaction. It is so easy for people in the U.S. (particularly those where I come from, the Southern states) to believe without question that 2000 years ago a man was really a god, that this man walked on water, performed miracles, cured diseases, cast out demons, and was ressurected from the dead after his death, that the Christian Bible is literally true, that there is a Heaven and Hell, and that all who do not profess themselves Christians shall suffer eternal torment in Hell for even the smallest of sins. All of these very outlandish claims are readily accepted, and yet when I tell them that I believe in different Gods and Goddesses I am assumed to be crazy.
As I walked in the forest I became aware of just how small a history Christianity has on the planet. Not long at all. It was also shown how readily people will follow the beliefs of the social group they grew up with. Rare is the person who changes faith from his/her parents for spiritual growth (as opposed to many who become a witch simply out of spite or rebellion of their Christian upbringing). This number, while small, is fortunatly growing. I am not condoning a lessinging of Christianity, but an inclusion of other religions.
Walking more I realized that the feeling of Nature will provide for us, this fluffy approach to Nature, wasn’t a pagan belief at all, but it was one brought over from Christianity. In reading ecoliterature one comes upon the myth of Eden and the disastrous effects it has had on the U.S. environmental movement. There are strong cries in the environmental movement to cordon off all natural areas to all human activity to save Nature from the cancer that is man. The thought is that when man enters the picture, the area is then ruined. Several authors have argued that this is a holdover of Christian thought when the New World was discovered by the European powers. America as an unspoiled Eden filled with natural resources, a state that many environmentalists are trying to bring back, is a myth. There were millions and millions of people that had great impacts on their environments in the Americas. Some more than others. Some were more in harmony with their environment than others. Recall the Taoist thought of living in balance with The Way. Recall also the Roman notion of going to war (I did a paper on this and found it an interesting topic). The Romans would ask their war priest class, the Fidelias, to determine if the coming war was just or not. These priest would then consult their means to inquire of the gods if the war was just. If so, they would then ceremonially launch a spear into the territory of the enemy and the fighting would ensue. Now, the key here is that the Romans believed that the gods were on their side but that this did not mean an automatic victory. If the Romans were defeated, it wasn’t the fault of the gods, but instead they, the Roman Army, was simply unable to execute the wishes of the gods. They’d train and regroup and try again.
Remember that in this time mankind was much more susceptable to the “harsh realities” of Nature than we are today. Illness, food shortages, predators, etc etc etc… all took their toll on mortality rates, which were quite high. It seems unlikely to me that with people so likely to die that they would continue to believe some crack priest who said that all was well. Today, with all of our conveniences, it is easy for middle aged person to feel that a red rock, some incense, and a few rhymes, can keep them healthy (or a Christian to feel that some prayers and trips to church) all while they go to their jobs in a society and time where the most dangerous thing is the idiot reading a book while driving his car is likely to plow into you. Ancient pagans are often criticized by modern people as being stupid superstitious types who, for some crazy assed reason, thought they could tell the future by the entrails of a dead chicken, control a storm with some salt, and heal people with tea and leeches. I cannot say as for how stupid or superstitious the ancients were, but watch a group of men exclaim when their team is driving for a touchdown and the announcer says “he’s been throwing well for weeks and hasn’t thrown an interception all season”. They will accuse the announcer of “jinxing” the team. Baseball fans know what a rally cap is. Coins are almost always found in wells and fountains. Candles are still blown out on cakes for birthdays. Etc… Some of these are superstition, others are subconscious workings of magic.
It isn’t pagans who have an out of touch view of Nature as only love and white light. We know that there are both beauty and ugliness around us, birth and death, ease and harhness. It isn’t a pagan belief that we can simply go where we want and do what we want and that the world will realize us as pagans and make way for us, not eat us, not rip us to shreds. It is Christians, or the the holdovers of Christian thinking in our society that is still present even in those who don’t consider themselves Christian any longer. Go ahead and clearcut the forests, Jesus is coming and the Rapture will happen, and we will not need this planet any longer. Fine, go and leave it to us pagans who delight in the beauty around us. A Christian heaven is streets of gold, big mansions, pealy gates, lots of choir singing, bright lights… and what else? Nobody knows. A pagan heaven (we don’t really have a heaven) is really a kinda like the Earth on a really good day. I say we don’t have a heaven, but some traditions do. Some believe in a Valhalla for the fallen heroes, some believe in a Summerland. I don’t know and I’m not stuck in a dogma about it. When I die I’ll be curious and ready for it. For now I’m having a good time where I’m at.
Environmentalism needs a shot in the arm of good old paganism to get rid of these ridiculous holdovers from Christian thought. There is no Eden we need to try and get back to. Man is not a cancer to the planet. There are right ways of living and there are wrong ways of living and we should try to understand the difference.
Further on my walk I came upon fire road number 15. I had a map with me and saw that if I took this I’d find another trail that would take me to a meadow. I’ve been looking for a good place for doing rituals outside. Along the way I’ve been asking if I should try to start a coven. I’ve toyed with the idea a few years ago. I found myself asking the trees if I should do so. But I far from being knowledgeable enough to be a solitary Priest, much less a priest of a coven. But the thought of finding a few others like me, and the potential of leaning from each other, seems something that I’d like to try.
I found the meadow. It was a good spot and somewhat out of the way of hikers. It would be a good spot save for one problem. It was a mere fifty yards from another entrance to the forest. Granted this entrance went through a person’s front yard and didn’t seem to be readily noticeable from the road. Perhaps it would be a good spot. Easy access and yet still somewhat out of the way for those who do not know. Hmmm.
The sun was begining to sink in the West and as I glanced to the East I saw the Full Moon in the blue sky. It took my breath away. I gave thanks for being alive, for all my gifts and tendencies. And I enjoyed the sight of the silver moon through the trees.
On the walk back it got dark very quickly as I was walking on the eastern side of the low mountain range. I was only a fourth of the way back when it was completely dark. The moon was now silver and fully luminous. I was walking fast but now I slowed down and enjoyed the night. The rays of the moon were so bright that they almost induced color vision in the parts of the forest that they illuminated. I could not look direclty at the moon as it was too bright. The forest was pitch black and I moved from shadow to shadow, moonbeam to moonbeam. I was reminded of the meaning behind a “book of shadows”. Several times I would stop on the trail and give the standing Goddess or God symbol to the moon, soaking up its energy, and lettin my heart overflow with love.
Far off an owl hooted. I gave back a cry of the Spotted Owl (a four hoot call) and waited. Nothing. Did I miss the owl? Or did it come to where I was at and was watching me now? I did not know. I continued my walk. Noticing just how very quiet the forest was. When I spoke aloud, in a normal tone of voice, I was startled by how loud it was. I came upon a unique stand of trees I had noted earlier. It was a group from the same root structure, three tree trunks on one side, three tree trunks on the other side, with a space big enough for me in the middle. It was all clearly one single tree family. I kneeled down in the middle and gave thanks. Earlier, when it had been daylight, I had done the same and had watched as the top of one tree shook with wind while all the trees around it did not move. I watched as this little patch of wind moved from one tree to another one a few trees over, without disturbing the trees betwee, and then move further on. I was reminded of the oddities of wind and recalled stories of the weird things tornadoes could do. I also recalled a witch’s writing about elementals. Was I witnessing air elementals? As the cynic in my mind argued that I wasn’t, I felt that I was indeed… but I understood something deeper. Air elementals are always in the wind, the two are inseperatable. It is the divine spark in all things. The Cosmos is alive in all its aspects and forms everywhere… it is the All. Remembering Spinoza I wondered if God, being All That Is, could have any part that was without any divine presence or life at all. I felt that this was a thought that made no sense, that there was life and that spark in all things. I noted that this fell in line with some environmental thought, some Hindu thought, witchcraft, and other mythologies as well. (I use mythology to refer to body of stories, folklore, legends, rituals, etc… and do not mean it in the demeaning and lessening sense that scientists or Christians sometimes do). It seems that there is a way of truth that is all around us that has been twisted and attempted to eradicate by other belief systems but that is making a comeback.
I stared at the bright silver moon piercing the forest with her shafts of light and I dedicated myself to her and asked her that I continue to grow and learn, and that I am able to contribute to not only myself, but to those around me, the health of the world, and the well-being of my brothers and sisters of mankind.